Wages and Corporate Behavior in the United States


April 6, 2015, 12:00 AM EDT
Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington, DC
Justin Wolfers (PIIE), Jacob Funk Kirkegaard (PIIE), Michael Strain (American Enterprise Institute), Damon Silvers (AFL-CIO) and Mark T. Bertolini (Aetna)

Event Summary

The Peterson Institute held a groundbreaking and timely discussion of wages and corporate behavior on April 6, 2015. Institute senior fellows Justin Wolfers and Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, followed by Michael Strain from the American Enterprise Institute and Damon Silvers from the AFL-CIO, provided their insights on the challenges of reconnecting compensation and economic growth, particularly for low-wage workers in the United States. Mark Bertolini, chairman and chief executive officer of Aetna, gave the keynote speech titled "Reestablishing the American Middle Class and the Role of Corporate America." Aetna's recent decision to provide workers with a wage increase and improved medical coverage in an effort to boost productivity and other social implications is covered in the New Yorker article "A Fair Day's Wage."

Mark Bertolini assumed the role of chairman of Aetna in April 2011 and chief executive officer in November 2010. He also served as president from July 2007 to December 2014, during which time he was responsible for all of Aetna's businesses and operations. Bertolini joined Aetna in 2003 as head of Aetna's Specialty Products and subsequently served as executive vice president and head of Aetna's regional businesses. Before joining Aetna, Bertolini held executive positions at Cigna, NYLCare Health Plans, and SelectCare, Inc., where he was president and chief executive officer. Bertolini serves as a director of Verizon Communications Inc., Mutual Life Insurance Company, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, and the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Justin Wolfers has been senior fellow at the Institute since September 2014. He is on leave from the University of Michigan, where he is professor of economics and professor of public policy. He was previously visiting professor at Princeton University, associate professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, assistant professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and economist with the Reserve Bank of Australia. Wolfers's research focuses on labor economics, macroeconomics, and behavioral economics. Beyond research, he is a contributing columnist for the New York Times and a commentator for Public Radio's Marketplace program.

Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, senior fellow, has been associated with the Institute since 2002. He is author of The Accelerating Decline in America's High-Skilled Workforce: Implications for Immigration Policy (2007) and coauthor of US Pension Reform: Lessons from Other Countries (2009) and Transforming the European Economy (2004). He is widely recognized for his insights and forecasting accuracy with respect to European political economy since the euro area crisis began. Before joining the Institute, he worked for the Danish Ministry of Defense, the United Nations in Iraq, and in the private financial sector.